This is one of our earliest ship sheets.
The thing that first crawled from the sea to the land was likely in no way suited for the land. But since it was the only living thing on the land it was the thing best suited for the land.
You have to start somewhere. The first thing you make for your game will also be the worst thing you make for your game. It ought to be, after all – we are only going to improve it. There will be dead ends and mistakes along the way, for certain, but the general progress of a game’s design should be in a positive direction.
The basic idea of how ships work has survived – they’re a series of individual circles (components) connected by lines (corridors). Crew and damage are placed on the components themselves, giving us an easy way to have a location-based damage system for any sort of ship design.
This old rust bucket has the stats listed directly on the components themelves, for ‘ease of reference’. In fact, every component has stats, including different amounts of crew required to run them – the idea being that if you undercrewed a component, you would suffer some sort of penalty. The main problem was that because of the stats we couldn’t put anything in the components themselves- we had to place markers next to them – a big problem on big ship designs.
In the upper right corner is our earliest movement system. Silent Fury has always had vector movement, and this was our method for tracking it. You would put chips on each side of the vector hex to indicate how far in that direction you were traveling. Each engine gave you thrust and maneuver points, which would let you manipulate chips on that hex in order to change your movement. You can see the corresponding stats on the engines – lose an engine, and you’d lose those points.
As a sheet, it’s a serviceable design for marking damage, but our high crew numbers were the worst part of it. There wasn’t room for minis (we hadn’t even thought of using actual crew miniatures yet), so instead we used dice placed in each module to mark how many crew were in each one. Bumping a sheet and disrupting the 8 carefully placed dice on it was a disaster.
The idea of having individual crew quickly gave way to abstracted crew that were much more feasible to handle on a single sheet. In general, each ship would have one crew for each module, plus one or two spares to replace crew who got killed. We wanted a state for these crew somewhere between dead and alive, so we started disrupting crew when they failed a crew check (initially marking each one). That proved too cumbersome, so we abstracted that further with the addition of a Disrupted Crew box – all disrupted crew are simply placed there (no more need to mark them), and they can come back from that state by rallying.
This sheet introduces not one, but two systems that didn’t survive – emergency power (the little lightning bolt circles) and ammo tracking. Emergency power was our solution for the not-fun incidents when your only reactor was the first thing hit. Under our rules, that was the end of the ship – you were dark and done for. Emergency power gave you a few more turns of module operation to keep fighting with so that the proverbial ‘headshot’ wasn’t quite so nasty, but managing it was only complicating our power rules further. Ammo tracking worked similarly to systems you’ve seen – take a shot (or several), mark off some boxes. Serviceable, but expensive on real estate space.
The best part of this sheet is changing the circle components into shapes by component type. At a glance you can see what kind of module something is, even with crew figures and damage tokens covering up what’s in the middle. It also begins the process of moving stats out of the modules – we have a thrust chart and a weapon list over on the left side now.
Those little claw things attached to the engines were our initial boarding system – the assault lance. We attached them to modules to indicate that you could board from that module. Those were with the system for a long time – right up until our revisions just before Cold Wars.
Turns out we really needed those weapon stats on the sheet after all. Looking up a weapon on a separate chart proved far worse than moving whatever was blocking the stats on the module, and so the weapon chart in the upper-right was born. No more moving crew and damage tokens to see the stats, and no more separate chart to check. With that was born a bit of color – by coloring individual weapons and individual chart lines, it was easier to reference which weapon corresponded to which line on the chart.
You might be wondering what the lines are above the ships – that was an area where you could name your own ship, to give it a little more personality.
And this is where the ape becomes fully human. Or at least a Neanderthal.
Adding color to the sheets was one of the best decisions we’ve made. The sheets have a very distinctive look as a result, and it combines well with component shapes to let you know instantly what your ship is composed of. We enjoy some advantage over many of the older systems with the advent and wide distribution of the color printer – practically everyone can print sheets this way, so we can freely make the sheets to take advantage of that (though a black and white version is still possible – color is used as an aid, not an essential).
The other great thing about this sheet is that there are no stats on any of the components. None. The only components left which have stats at all are the weapons. Everything else just finds use as a unit of 1 ‘thing’.
Reactors are gone. Reactors were one of those things that was hard to let go of. Losing power is a classic situation in pulp space combat, and we really wanted it, but the way reactors were working slowed down the game. To boot, managing power was one of the least fun aspects of the game. We ultimately decided that we didn’t need them and pressed on, adding ‘power down’ as a status effect that can happen to modules without the need to trace lines through the ship.
If you’ve been watching the changes to the stats in the weapon chart, this was a pretty big milestone – Silent Fury had finally gone from initially using every die type under the sun (To my playtesters of the era: I’m sorry.) to a system of d20’s combining both hit chance and hit location, d10s for inter-ship combat and d6’s for crew checks and melee combat.
Sometimes we take a step backward.
Those ugly barriers in place of the corridors are Bulkheads. Bulkheads were a kludge rule – and they weren’t the first. Emergency power was a kludge rule as well.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically refers to a fix that you make (usually in programming) that’s really bad. I mean, sure, it works – you CAN close your broken car door if you tape it shut – but you really ought to fix the locking mechanism.
If you’re designing a game (or any complex system, for that matter), you’ve got to watch out for kludge rules. You need to recognize that you’re making one, and that your attention should be focused on the real problem.
The real problem here was critical hits – when you hit a ship, having a critical hit would cause damage to every adjacent location. Look at the ship – almost anywhere you could hit, that’s really bad. A critical hit with a destroyed result could blow up half the ship.
Now, I’m not opposed to severe hits. I quite like the idea that any single shot is a serious threat to a ship. The problem was that they were happening a bit too often – as in, one out of every ten shots – so we started designing ships to resist critical hits. We would specifically move engines away from each other, and when that wasn’t enough we created Bulkheads which would prevent critical damage from passing through them.
I woke up one day and faced the truth – we didn’t need systems to resist critical hits any more than we had needed emergency power to ‘fix’ reactors being destroyed. We needed crits to work well by themselves, without additional rules and systems to balance them out. So we changed them, and bulkheads went to the same place Emergency Power did.
And now we come to it. The great ship sheet of our age.
This is the modern, post Cold-Wars sheet that Nathan created about three hours ago. We’ve got some good stuff on here – much of it a reaction to what we saw new players doing at the convention. Running convention games always gives us some of our best feedback. As your usual playtesters become familiar with the game, you need to keep showing it to fresh eyes when you can.
First, you may wonder, what are those brackets with numbers at the top?
Silent Fury has recently adopted action cards for determining what ships do. Those brackets are action card slots. We’ve had some confusion with people creating card stacks in terms of determining what card goes first, and sometimes people flip a card before they should, creating some confusion. This gives players a space to place their three cards explicitly in each area, and it’s very clear which card we should all be on even if someone starts flipping cards before they should.
We’ve added a size number for each ship, because while you can get this by looking for your highest numbered module, it takes new players a second to find that, so we’ve made it easier to reference.
Nathan noticed some squinting when people were reading the weapon chart, likely due to the “black on color” text for weapon names. The current weapon chart reduces the color amount for readability’s sake, while keeping enough of it to connect it to the colored weapon components.
On the left is a thrust diagram, which is easier to explain and understand than our old thrust chart.
The little boarding claws are gone. Since we wanted boarding to stand out, we made it easier to do, and we just assume that every module on a ship is equipped with the same boarding equipment (or that crew intending to board can make it to boarding equipment in a short period of time).
One of the more common questions at the con was ‘Where’s my bridge’? We already had a bridge module, but it wasn’t common on ships with lots of crew, but thematically we agree with you – more ships should have them. Notice that the bridge has no number. That’s our latest experiment – a component without a number can’t be hit directly (it’s too deep inside the ship), so the only way you’re going to get it is with a critical hit or a boarding action. If it works well for bridges, we may be trying numberless components for some other types like shield generators and med-bays, but probably never for weapons or engines. My favorite part of this particular experiment is that it doesn’t actually require any rules changes – if we don’t like it, we’ll just stop making ship sheets with numberless components.
Finally, in the lower right, we’ve added a player aid for new players, and put some pretty dice and token pictures on it. Silent Fury is pretty easy to pick up as tactical space combat games go, and it probably won’t be necessary for most of you after a game or two, but we hope it proves helpful for new players.
Because crew and damage still cover up component numbers, we’ve added a second number outside the component to make it easier to reference. It’s something we should have done a long time ago.
If you go back up and have a look at that first sheet, you’ll know why I kicked myself while I was writing this post.
For anyone who hasn’t played, I want to mention this: This is not just a ship sheet. This is also a game board, where hostile crew fight component by component for control of the ship during a boarding action.
Now, this ship sheet is not the end. Right now I have no idea just how far it’s going to go, or what it’s going to look like at Cold Wars 2013. This sheet is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.